Providence, Rhode Island

   East Side Tunnel



The west entrance is to the northwest of the Benefit St. and Angell St. intersection, and the east entrance is just east of Gano St. about fifty feet into the woods. The west entrance is directly behind a RISD building. The Tunnel travels approximately east/west, is 5080 feet long, and is straight except for a short distance near the West Portal where it curves at 8 degrees. It is 110 feet below ground as it passes under Prospect St, its deepest point. Most of the tunnel lies underneath a residential section of Providence; part of it also passes beneath a corner of Brown University.



This tunnel was conceptualized in 1903 as a means of giving easy rail access Union Station in the center of Providence. Essentially, the tunnel connects the Seekonk river and the Providence river. The blackly erect hulk of a "Scherzer Rolling Lift Bridge" hanging over the Seekonk River shows the continuation of the railroad tracks from the tunnel.

The East Side Railroad tunnel (not to be confused with the East Side Trolley Tunnel, which was built in 1913 and is used as a bus route) was begun in 1906; it was finished in 1908, and officially opened on November 15, 1908. It is 22 feet high, 31 feet wide, and the reinforced concrete roof is a set of "three-centered arches varying from two feet at the crown to four feet at the skewbacks."

Information was taken from the following sources:
Rhode Island: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites
Gary Kulik and Julia Bonham, Dept. of the Interior, 1978
(Published by the US Department of the Interior, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, Historic American Engineering Record, 1978)

"Board of Trade Journal," 1908, p. 449, 450, and 453. (Especially p. 453- November 1908).

The East Side Tunnel and its Approaches, Providence, Rhode Island
by Edwin P. Dawley
Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies, May 1909.
Available at the RIHS Library: Pr 3R F847r

Information was obtained with the help of the RI Historical Society.


Recent History:

The tunnel was apparently still in use in 1978, according to the notes from the Inventory of Historic Engineering Sites. It was easily accessible, and the accessibility was taken advantage of in particular by RI School of Design students and Brown students. At some point, presumably around when the Seekonk bridge became a permanently vertical structure, the trains stopped running.

A large party in the tunnel (an annual event for RISD students, apparently) sometime in the early 90s (1994, according to the grapevine) got out of hand, and police attempted to quell it. A police car was overturned in the melee, the local press reported that satanic rituals had been the norm for the subterranean celebrators, and the tunnel was closed with thick corrugated steel, pierced at each end only by a locked door. The locks have since been removed; as of the summer of 99 both ends of the tunnel are open.

Rumor has it that some of the domestically challenged elements of the population camp out in the tunnel; it would indeed be good shelter in the winter, but during the summer there was no sign whatsoever of residents.



Current Condition:

A decomposed skeleton of a car outside the east entrance, and a similar fossil about midway through the tunnel, point to party people of years past. The rusted mess outside the east entrance is upside down and may be the overturned police car mentioned above, but it's too far gone to tell. Graffiti inside is interesting but not spectacular. Puddles abound, the roof drips constantly, and for about fifty feet from the east entrance a few inches of water covers the ground. Walking on one of the railroad tracks avoids the wet, but bring a stick to use as a crutch.

The tunnel itself is structurally boring, without any vents, sewers, slopes, alcoves, or industrial detritus. The mineral formations almost make up for it, though: soda straws galore, especially at the seams in the roof, with sparkly rounded stalagmites beneath them; coagulated cascades of iron oxide where groundwater trickles through tiny cracks in the wall; and, on the south side where the gravel floor slopes into a gutter, a torpid stream of rusty sediment and gelid water carves quivering sculptures out of colloidal mud.

Most fascinating is the fact that this huge tunnel just sits there unnoticed beneath the venerable houses of the staid populace. None of the happy homeowners seemed to realize that beneath their feet lies an obsolete thoroughfare, a satanic underworld that reflects the church spires of Providence with inverted spikes of dripping stone; a dark, dank garden of earthly delights...

-steve duncan

This document in plain text:


A couple other accounts of the tunnel from the earlier 90s





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